Last week, BMW gave their chosen ActiveE customers a glance at their next generation “electric” vehicles. At an event in New York City the company presented their latest prototypes of the i3 and i8 which they say will be sold as an entirely separate sub brand, much like their “M” cars. I didn’t quite make it in time but my son did, and after listening to what he learned I am glad I didn’t waste my time.
BMW presented both their i3 4-door hatchback and the i8 sports car which will be available as a coupe and a roadster starting 2014. Typically, prototypes like the “Vision” they showed off at various car shows around the world for the past 2 years get toned down and become more practical over time. The i3 and i8, however, are evolving into objects that are borderline goofy, and that don’t even qualify as electric cars. I consider them to be complete failures, and I am very disappointed in my favorite car maker. Here is why:
Unlike Tesla, for example, who keep pushing the envelope in terms of range, BMW have apparently resigned and turned towards covering up their lack of innovation by going all flashy on the outside. I’ll come to that later. Fact of the matter is that my ActiveE never lived up to its 100 mile range as advertised, and only the biggest enthusiasts still care bringing their numbers up to that level. Truth is that if you drive the car like a BMW is meant to be driven, you’ll end up with a little over 80 miles in range.
On paper, 80 miles gets me everywhere I want in terms of short distance destinations. Alas, there is the weather: if its hot you need the air conditioner which depletes the battery; if its cold the battery range drops just because of that; and if it rains the tires find more resistance, and the range goes down. Since there always IS weather out there in real life I have to build a safety cushion into my travel plans, rendering the vehicle almost obsolete.
I realize the Active E is sort of a prototype so I am prepared to forgive (see my previous blogs). What I don’t see happening is an evolutionary process, a gradual improvement in the car’s performance based on user experience, which is what we all signed up for. Au contraire, the new i3 now appears to have the exact same performance data as the Active E; 80-100 miles per charge. Yes, there are two more doors, and there appears to be more interior space. But BMW claim the car is also lighter than the Active E so this doesn’t count as an excuse. Instead, they are offering a range extender (at a surcharge, I am sure) that will give you the peace of mind not to get stranded. This turns the i3 into a Chevy Volt competitor and makes it pretty lame in my book.
So what about the i8? When I first saw it in “Mission Impossible” I immediately wanted one, even after accepting that the cool windshield touch-screen computer was fictional, and that you can’t really drive that fast downtown Mumbai. So what has it become after all those years? A car capable of going 20 miles electric after which a “real” engine kicks in. A car featuring two backup transportation devices (scooters) in back, a car running on tires reminding me of my Toyota Prius. I am sure one of their doctors will explain to us why this doesn’t compromise roadholding and cornering at all. Common sense and five years in a Prius say it does.
Which brings us to appearances: both cars still yell “Look at me!” – the Active E does that in a – comparatively – more subdued way and I have gotten used to the occasional question from fellow motorists. The i3 and i8 are, however, sure to draw a crowd and – similar the Active E – they are built with BMW’s self promotion in mind, not a view to customer preferences. To the company’s credit they did announce more color choices so let’s wait for this detail to be released. Maybe it’s just me, but if someone wants me to promote their product they should pay me for doing so. BMW are counting on their stedfast enthusiasts to pay, and then go out to do their PR. The “Electronaut” welcome kit even included little cards you could hand out to people you met on the road, pointing them to more information on the car online. Seriously….
I won’t go into color choices since tastes differ, so I’ll just say that subjectively the bright white and blue exterior clashes with the brown interior big time as far as I am concerned. I understand the cows used to make the seats were fed organic food only, and they died happy, but still. Again, I trust there will be choices eventually.
Why the rant? If you haven’t noticed, dear makers of BMW, I like your cars and I care about your brand. I’ve driven BMWs for most of my life and I want to continue doing so. But first there was Bangle and then you started taking strange turns towards poseur cars with engine noise coming from the stereo rather than the exhaust; you are losing your edge on technology by giving the world hybrid cars that you cover under the “i” mantle – what other company does this preface remind me more of than yours? Please wake up, please give your true enthusiasts the cars they want again, and please stop the theatrics. If what I see isn’t what I get then I may not want it anymore in future.